Editor’s note: This article was initially published in The Daily Gazette, Swarthmore’s online, daily newspaper founded in Fall 1996. As of Fall 2018, the DG has merged with The Phoenix. See the about page to read more about the DG.
This November, I ran the Philadelphia Half Marathon. If you had told me that I was going to do so just a few months ago, I wouldn’t have believed you.
“Final call for the boys’ 1600 meter run!”
In middle school, when I heard those words, all I could think about were the things I’d rather be doing than running a race: being punched in the face, throwing up, breaking a bone, etc. I’ve never felt more intense anxiety than I have in the moments leading up to a track race. Anyone who’s ever run one is familiar with this feeling.
I’ve been running on-and-off since I was 10. There’ve been times when I’ve run nearly every day, and times when I’ve gone for months without a single run. For a long time, there was one thing about running that never seemed to change: it was a total drag. I’d spend more time on a Saturday morning watching “just one more” YouTube video than actually running. From the second I stepped out the door, I would just be waiting for the clock to wind down.
Earlier this semester, I had a conversation with a friend of mine, Nathan Pitock, in which he mentioned that he was running the Philly half marathon this November. The first thing I thought to myself was, “Holy shit, Nathan must be a really good runner. I could never do that.”
At that time, I was running around 6 miles a week. I thought about how I had been running on and off for so long, but often struggled to enjoy it. I wanted to run more, and I wanted to learn to love it.
On the last Saturday of fall break, I went out for a run. This time, I thought about how I had been spending my time at college so far and how I wanted to spend it going forward, not about how much farther I had to go. I ended up running five miles — the longest I had run in a very long time. The next day, I ran seven — the longest I had ever run — and felt great. I decided that I was going to stick with it.
When I got back to campus, I began to entertain the idea of running the half marathon myself. I was running more than I ever had before — around 30 miles per week. On Halloween, I saw a 20% discount code for the half marathon registration on Facebook, so I signed up.
I spent the next few weeks training. I didn’t procrastinate before my runs, and I didn’t let myself get into a mental debate on whether or not I should run. I looked forward to my daily hour of introspection, chatting with a friend, listening to great music, or totally zoning out.
The Sunday before the race, I ran ten miles, and it felt absolutely fantastic. I knew I was ready to tackle 13.1 miles the next week.
So, the next weekend, I ran through a beautiful city surrounded by happy people holding up funny signs for 13.1 miles. I had lots of fun and felt great (except for the last few miles… those were pretty tough). I’ve been running in the few weeks since the race, and I don’t plan on stopping any time soon.
For a long time, I felt intimidated by others’ ability to run for a lot longer and faster than I thought I could, and by the seemingly-intense nature of running culture. I imagine a lot of others feel the same way.
There are many reasons why people choose to run: fitness, competition, stress-relief, personal fulfillment, socialization, solitude, and contemplation, to name a few. Some say that to be a runner, you have to be crazy enough to enjoy the pain. I disagree; some runners are this way, but many others choose to run comfortably, and many fall somewhere in between. All reasons for and ways of running are equally legitimate.
Running is an intensely personal activity; every runner is in complete control of his or her own experience. I believe that if you recognize this, you can find a way to run that will bring you joy.
The notorious slow-running advocate John Bingham once said, “If you run, you’re a runner.” I couldn’t agree more. There are plenty of runners who run a lot faster for a lot longer than I do, and I’m totally okay with that. I’ve been lucky enough to find an approach to running that works for me, and I encourage others to try to find one of their own.
If you’d like to try running out for yourself, or already run and are looking for a group of people to run with, shoot me an email (firstname.lastname@example.org). I am in the process of forming a running club, and I’d love for you to come out and run with us!